Thanksgiving Eve 2016
1 Timothy 2:1,8; Matthew 6:25
November 23, 2016 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Holy Communion is surrounded by thanksgiving in the Lutheran Liturgy. In the center we have the Words of Institution. Our Lord gives thanks for the bread and wine. We do well to emulate this, to thank God for the food that we receive and to realize that He provides constantly what we need for this body and life. We aren’t dogs begging in the kitchen snatching greedily at the piece of meat that is dropped. We are calm and without fear for our lives because God in on our side and has promised to care for us. So we pause before we eat and thank God.
Implied in the Lord’s thanksgiving at the Institution of the Sacrament of the Altar is that Jesus is also giving thanks for the fellowship that He has with the disciples. He is thanking the Father for allowing Him to love them, to die for them. He has come to reconcile them and us to Himself bat terrible price but He is glad to do it, thankful for the chance to serve, to make them, and us, His bride.
It seems strange at first but the Lord Jesus is thankful for the Holy Communion for therein He enjoys union and intimacy with His Bride. That is an important part of His giving thanks at the Institution of the Supper and it stands in the center of the Lutheran Liturgy’s thanskgivings.
Before that we have an explicit call to thanks. As part of the Proper Preface the pastor says or chants “Let us give thanks unto the Lord our God” and we say or chant back “It is meet and right so to do.” Then the pastor says or chants that it is always right to give thanks to God and goes on for a bit as to why that it is. The word “preface” here doesn’t mean that this is something preliminary but rather that there is a proclamation and a preparation to be made. This is done by an invitation to thanksgiving. The part that changes does so seasonally, giving us reasons to give thanks that are tied to the particular themes of Advent or Christmas or Easter and the like. These reasons could be somewhat endless, but they are all united in the singular gift of justification, that is, that “we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us.”
It is truly meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to God because He has redeemed us, justified us. In the Festival half of the year, that is Advent through Pentecost, the liturgy usually ties our thanksgiving in the Proper Preface to the specific historic acts of Christ in the Incarnation which has wrought our salvation, but so also we could develop themes of God’s love, of being members of His family, of being His Bride, of the gifts of Word and Sacrament and so forth. All these things are cause for us to rejoice and give thanks, and it is right for us in all times and places to do so, but all of them are intimately tied and dependent upon His atoning gift on the cross. If we weren’t justified there’d be nothing worth giving thanks for. God’s grace is distributed to us in various ways, such as through His Word, in the Holy Absolution, and in Holy Baptism. But the means of Grace that is called sometimes the Eucharist, that is in Greek “Thanksgiving,” is the Holy Communion.
So it is that after the distribution the pastor says or chants: “O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good” and we respond by saying or chanting “And His mercy endures forever.” Then the pastor prays a thanksgiving prayer on our behalf.
Most of the time he prays this: “We give thanks to You, Almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift.” The salutary or healthy gift is the Holy Communion. We thank God for refreshing us through this. Then we beseech Him that of His mercy He would strengthen us through the same, that is through the same salutary gift that refreshed us, the Holy communion, that through that He would strengthen us in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another, which is to say that His refreshing mercy, which He bestows in the Sacrament, would cause us to love Him with our whole heart and love our neighbors as ourselves. That is all in the form of thanksgiving.
All this to say that which is probably sort of obvious: the most natural way for Lutherans to give thanks to God is for them to receive the Holy Communion. So it is that in the context of our holiday thanksgiving these words of thanks in the liturgy and even the Sacrament itself take on a new import and significance in a way that is similar to the Gloria in Excelsis on Christmas Eve.
It is truly good, right, and salutary that we give thanks to God at all times and in all places, in terms of the Sermon on the Mount, this is the opposite of being anxious about our lives, what we will eat or what we will drink. Rather than being anxious – even in evil times and in suffering we give thanks because God has given us His Body to eat and His Blood to drink. That the antidote to anxiety about food. Our God has become a Man to buy and win us and He gives Himself as food, drink, and clothing. So we give thanks as we receive the forgiveness of sins in the Holy Eucharist. And giving thanks there enables us to go forth and give thanks in all other times and places, knowing that whatever the world may throw at us we have His Body to eat and His Blood to drink.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.